Here is a list of gifts I recently received: A T-shirt in which Hanukkah is spelled five different ways; A tote bag with the slogan, “What would Jeff Goldblum do?” A hat with my dog’s face plastered all over it; a scratchy towel emblazoned with an image of two friends in a compromising position; and yet another T-shirt with Professor Snape’s sexy grimace.
These mostly speak to my specific interests–namely, Jewish holidays, my gorgeous Pitbull-hound mix, and the late Alan Rickman. And the gifts were sent by thoughtful, generous friends and family who simply wanted to note their appreciation for my interests. They likely thought they were being creative.
But here’s the thing: There is no way I am ever going to use these products. They end up where all the other “funny” and/or personalized gifts live out their existence: the junk pile.
Such presents all enjoy the same trajectory: a brief moment where I wear it to be photographed for the sole effort of including in a thank-you email. That’s the most use they afford. Every so often, the giver presumes I might wear it “around the house,” without realizing that cheaply made products are not soft, and therefore cannot qualify for loungewear, let alone sleepwear.
Even worse, because they’re customized, you can’t even donate many of these gifts to Goodwill. Instead, they end up in a drawer accumulating dust.
Sadly, people who opt for customized presents are going out of their way to give something they believe to be thoughtful. But we need to rethink what qualifies as “thoughtful.” What exactly will your adult friend who still loves Britney Spears do with that printed pillow? That sister obsessed with John Stamos doesn’t necessary want to parade around with his beautiful face on her shirt.
What’s driving this gift-giving phenomenon? For starters, sites like Etsy, Zazzle, and CustomInk have made it all too easy for us to order customized gifts, without ever considering where they end up. In my experience, the receiver sends a perfunctory “OMG, so funny” thank-you before complaining to their spouse that something functional–even a carton of milk–would have been more appreciated. The expectation of cheap, fast shipping may also play a role; it’s all too easy to find a cheap gag gift online, press send, and have a present in hand in a day or two.
Which brings me to the bigger problem with the influx of “personalized” crap: It’s downright wasteful. Our world is already awash in an insane amount of trash: Over 11 million tons of recyclable clothing, shoes, and textiles are thrown in landfills each year. And the holiday season has a part in that. A recent survey found that 56% of Americans admit to receiving at least one unwanted gift, totaling $13 billion on nearly 142 million shitty gifts each year.
So, c’mon. This year, give something remotely useful. There are ways to be funny and functional! For example, a coffee mug with a classic Kanye West tweet can make one’s morning routine a bit more delightful. If you can’t resist ordering something personalized, what about a framed picture or photo calendar? If you truly want to up the ante, make something yourself, like a jam, body scrub, or bone broth. How about a song or video clip? A close friend of mine makes beautiful, hand-drawn watercolor postcards–of things I care about, like Beyoncé–for the sole purpose of seasonal fridge decoration.
If you’re going to send something personalized or “funny,” make it small, like a keychain or magnet. The gag should not be the gift. Buy–or better yet make–your loved ones something they actually want or need. Then, by all means, top if off with a fabulous Kris Jenner Christmas card.